Shojo Beat Review | Godchild

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Of all the series in Shojo Beat, Godchild is the one most likely to strike a chord in American readers unfamiliar with manga in general.

Viz Media; B&W; $8.99 ea.)

(W/A: Kaori Yuki)

Vol. 1 – 208 pgs, available now

Vol. 2 – 192 pgs, available 08-01-2006

If you think that shojo manga is nothing but boys and flowers, Godchild slips into Shojo Beat as one heckuva wake up call. A serial Victorian murder mystery series in the spirit of Sherlock Holmes or Alan Moore’s From Hell, Godchild follows the misadventures of Cain Hargreaves, the 17-year old "Earl Who Courts Death," as he gets mixed up in various tales of murder and mayhem.

The protagonist may be young, but that doesn’t mean this series is suitable for the younger set. Godchild can be, at times, unrelentingly brutal; the first chapter alone has a body count of four, all meeting their end by gruesome decapitation. The violence effectively heightens the stakes without overdoing the gore thanks to Kaori Yuki’s stunning art. Yuki’s work here is, quite simply, gorgeous, and is the main selling point of the series. The character designs are ornate and perfectly in line with the book’s period setting, yet her line is fluid enough that the action never lets up and the richly detailed characters still stay on model.

Each of Godchild’s Victorian horror stories begins with the young Earl Hargreaves travelling to meet with other members of the falling British aristocracy. Inevitably, someone in the home is murdered, and our unlucky hero ends up lined up as the next victim. Cain is a fascinating hero, an expert in poisons who investigates by slipping, Batman-like, into a rich playboy persona to gain the trust of the gentry he disdains as he sets off to solve the mystery. Coming from a dark, troubled childhood—he was beaten and abused by his father, who was convinced that the young Cain bears a mark of evil from God like that of his Biblical namesake—Cain is fiercely protective of Mary Weather, his 10-year old half-sister and frequent traveling companion, and places his trust in only one man: Riff, the butler who has cared for the young earl since his father’s death.

Of all the series in Shojo Beat, Godchild is the one most likely to strike a chord in American readers unfamiliar with manga in general. One main reason is the setting of Victorian-era Britain, a time and a place that most American readers know all too well. Yuki’s intricate mysteries also typically contain references to British literature and history, with murder plots that intertwine elements of Alice In Wonderland, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and nursery rhymes ingrained in the mind of all children ("Sing a Song of Sixpence," "There Was a Crooked Man"), while characters receive famous surnames like Cromwell or Disraeli, adding another layer of meaning for Western readers. Each of the series’ whodunits is compelling, although they aren’t always solvable for the reader. Occasionally, Cain reaches the truth using information that isn’t supplied to the reader, making everything seem a bit too convenient at times. Still, the main draw of the series isn’t the mystery aspect, but rather, discovering the motivations of the killers, and with compellingly complex killers and exquisite art to match, Godchild remains a thrilling read.

Godchild is the sequel to Count Cain, the five-volume series that introduced the young Earl Hargreaves. Godchild began serialization after a 7-year hiatus, during which writer/artist Kaori Yuki produced the hit manga Angel Sanctuary (also available in English from VIZ Media). Although the original Count Cain series is currently unavailable in English, readers don’t have to worry that they’re missing vital information. Unlike Shojo Beat’s other titles (Baby & Me being a notable exception), Godchild’s stories are very episodic; each crime is typically solved within the chapter it is introduced, with the longest of the continuing stories, "Butterfly Bones," stretching over only four chapters. This kind of storytelling makes Godchild the perfect "gateway" series for an anthology, the kind of story that any reader can pick up and appreciate on its own merits without regard to previous continuity, giving new readers a series to enjoy as they warm to the longer, continuing stories. That makes it all the more unfortunate, then, that Godchild has wrapped up its run in Shojo Beat and will be continuing straight to graphic novels. Here’s hoping its replacement, the vampire high school drama Vampire Knight from MeruPuri creator Matsuri Hino, lives up to the very high standard set by its predecessor.

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